A couple (played Brad and Angelina Jolie Pitt) with marital problems retreat to Malta to a beautiful old hotel in an idyllic beach setting in the early seventies (the Watergate scandal is in the news). He is a writer who hopes to overcome his apparent writer’s block, she is a former dancer. They both have an alcohol problem the result of some unspoken drama they fail to address.
When they encounter a young couple (played by Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) who are staying in the room next door they recognise the passion they used to feel as well. A spy hole that gives them a look into the bedroom of the lovebirds reunites them as a couple, be it a couple of voyeurs. Will this proof to be a good basis for a renewal of their relationship?
By the Sea is the third film directed by Angelina Jolie. Her debut In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011) was an extremely though film about the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina that pulled no punches that was considered by some as a vanity project but was in fact an impressive low budget film.
Her second Unbroken (2014) was a huge box office success (but was snubbed by the Academy) based on the unbelievable real-life story of Luis Zamperini which had an amazing first half but was ruined by an incredibly silly patriotic second half.
With By the Sea Jolie returns to a more low budget, arthouse film territory. The film is certainly not as bad as the bashing reviews and audience reactions in the States would let you to believe but it’s not necessarily a masterpiece either. They did however choose a strange project to celibrate their honeymoon with.
The photography by Christian Berger (worked 5 times with Michael Haneke including Benny’s Video, 1992 and Das Weiße Band a.k.a. The White Ribbon, 2009) is excellent. The film might have been better served by not explaining the unspoken drama towards the end but this would probably have frustrated and infuriated people even more. But those who were expecting Mr. & Mrs. Smith part II were never going to be satisfied by this moodier piece anyway.